Where do ideas come from?

Every author gets asked at some point or another: “How do you come up with all these crazy ideas?” In this guest-blog, the wonderful Jeff DeMarco sets out to answer this question once and for all!

He leaned down into the child’s crib and whispered, “Goodnight, sweet pea. I love you,” then gently caressed her cheek. Her two middle fingers stuffed in her mouth, she mumbled, “Night night, da-da. I wuvs you.” She giggled, then smiled, mimicking her father’s face. It meant more to him than she could ever know, unless she had children of her own someday. It was their nightly ritual, until it ended.

I wrote that down just the other day, and aside from the last little statement, “until it ended,” it’s completely true. Yet, it makes you wonder, “why did it end?” Perhaps the child dies, perhaps the father dies, perhaps they’re separated or the parents become divorced or aliens abduct the father or a nuclear warhead goes off and it’s a race for survival and… ad infinitum. Or perhaps the girl just grows up and doesn’t need her father to tuck her in at night.

Quick anecdote and then we’ll get in to coming up with great ideas: Back when I was single, a ‘swinging richard’ if you will, I dated, naturally. The question always comes up in one way or another, directly or indirectly, ‘tell me about yourself.’ The worst possible answer (and in case you’re still in the dating pool) is “I’m boring,” and here’s why: YOU STARTED OUT AS A SINGLE CELL, GREW INSIDE ANOTHER LIVING HUMAN, FACED ADVERSITY, ACCOMPLISHED GOALS, GOT IN TROUBLE, FELL IN LOVE, HAD YOUR HEART BROKEN, FAILED, FAILED AGAIN, SUCCEEDED, NOT TO MENTION THAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY RIDING A MOLTEN-CORE-FILLED-ROCK MILLIONS OF MILES PER HOUR THROUGH SPACE. So, don’t tell me you’re boring.

1) Go buy a bunch of pocket notebooks. Writers, authors, teachers and bloggers have beat this dead horse beyond recognition, but seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been half asleep laying in bed and I have this transcendent thought, but OH NO! WHERE’S MY NOTEBOOK? Then I gradually convince myself that it’s such a great thought that I’ll surely remember it in the morning, settle back in to my slumber and BAM great idea is gone. Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of carrying things in my pockets. If you are, that’s cool. Just don’t get caught in the shower without a waterproof notebook.

2) Ask ‘what if?’ ALL THE TIME. I was mindlessly standing in front of my refrigerator the other day (I’m a stress eater, leave me alone), and I asked myself, “What if there was no food?” How would I find it, hunt it, gather it? I went a step further and asked, “What if there was no food, no canned goods, no animals? What if all the plant life died? What would I do then?” What I was really asking myself was “What would a slow death of starvation look like?” That leads me to my next point:

3) Don’t be afraid to be dark, or weird, or sexual, or someone completely different than you. Readers pay to live inside your fantasy, and it’s perfectly acceptable. There are a few notable exceptions here that are generally not accepted by the writing community: writing about pedophilia, rape, child and animal abuse and racism in a positive light. If that’s what you’re into writing, perhaps rethink your life choices. That said, murder (of someone who isn’t necessarily innocent) is usually acceptable… go figure. Otherwise, if you want to write transgender or adult baby-daddy erotica, go for it. There’s a market out there. If you want your main character to be a soul stealing demon, go for it. The limit is your imagination.

4) Stuff a love story into a post-apocalyptic future. What sort of challenges would one face. How do you go about caring for someone else when you can barely care for yourself? Or stuff a friendship into a paranormal romance. When the ghost leads your best friend and fiancé and has them dangling from a ledge, you must choose. What’s more important? Friendship or love?

5) People watch. Ok, so this one’s a little creepy, but oh well. See that cute redhead walking down the street? Wonder at what she might be thinking. What if she turned down a dark alley and was murdered? How would you solve the case? What clues do you have from what she’s wearing? Is she walking fast or slow? Is she smiling? Maybe she’s going to see her boyfriend. Maybe she’s going to pay off her loan shark or buy drugs or going to class. These are a few examples, but the bottom line is that life is not boring. It’s never boring. What’s boring is your actions and lack of imagination… so, stop it. Realize that there are a world of possibilities, and they’re all closer than you think. Now go write!

Author Jeff DeMarco is an all around swell guy and a snappy dresser. You can find him at his website by clicking here.

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with Stanley P. Brown

Today I have the privilege to introduce you to a wonderful writer, doting father and devoted Christian, Stanley P. Brown. Stanley is a friend and fellow #WolfPackAuthor, and if you’ve never read anything by him, it’s high time you do. But first, check out the interview below, and learn all about what makes Stanley tick!

Stanley Brown, Kinesiology Professor and Dept Head, and author of awesome paranormal fiction. (Photo by Megan Bean / Mississippi State University)

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself. 

Professor, Department Head, Scientist, writer of weird stories, Christian, Father of three daughters, Husband of one wife, Lover of wine and dark chocolate, Marvel nerd. Love of movies, new favorite just watched, John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. Fabulous work by Keanu Reeves.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your books. 

I write paranormal, broadly speaking, which includes everything from political thrillers with a paranormal twist to contemporary sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal mixture to children’s fantasy. Basically, things I like to read, but I read widely and get inspiration from many, many genres. Each book is meant to be a series, except Veiled Memory, which is Book 1 of The Stonehenge Chronicles. Book 2, The Ruby Ring, will be released from my publisher, Black Opal Books, on November 16, 2019. I am also writing a children’s animal story called The Captain of Tally Ho, based on my two cats. It, too, is paranormal. It is a middle grade fantasy, like Fallen Wizard. So, I have 4 mythologies I am currently working on and will be for the foreseeable future. I soon have to get to the sequels of Fallen Wizard and The Legacy.

My Amazon page is amazon.com/author/spbrownbooks.com. My website is spbrownbooks.com. Here are a few other links to find my three novels (Fallen Wizard, Veiled Memory, The Legacy) I’ve published so far: 

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-legacy-sp-brown/1127200190?ean=2940158795954

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/751832

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-legacy-94

https://www.scribd.com/book/361345090/The-Legacy

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-legacy/id1295278836?ls=1&mt=11

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fallen-wizard-s-p-brown/1129095410?ean=2940161900666

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/878402

KOBO: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/fallen-wizard

BOB: https://black-opal-books.myshopify.com/products/fallen-wizard

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/cromwells-folly/id1412568526?ls=1&mt=11

Scribd: https://www.scribd.com/book/383898255/9781626949669


3. What motivates you to write?

Boredom. I write because I like to and because I quickly lose interest in normal life, I suppose, is a good way to put it. I write fiction and study theology, my two great passions. I’m close to retirement, so my work (academic) writing has pretty much dried up.

4. What is your writer’s Achilles Heel? 

What am I bad at? I would say writing description beautifully is a real gift I just don’t have. One of my favorite children’s authors, Philip Pullman, has it in spades. Read his stuff, far better writing than what J.K. Rowling did in the HP series. I loved HP, don’t get me wrong, but Pullman is an artist.

5. What is your personal connection to the setting/characters in your books?

In Veiled Memory my protag is an academic historian and so is my wife. She has triplet daughters and my wife and I have three daughters. The Legacy is set mostly in Mississippi where I’ve lived for many years. Fallen Wizard is initially set in my hometown in Louisiana. And in The Captain of Tally Ho, the mythical land of Tally Ho is really the street I live on in my town in Mississippi.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers? 

Probably plot, and from a technical standpoint with other writers, point of view issues.

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers? 

How did you come up with your story idea? I have an answer for each story, but it annoys me to tell it. Want to hear it?

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why? 

In fiction, all of Tolkien for the sheer expansiveness of it and for his take on serious issues like immortality and death. Heavy, I know, but that’s Tolkien. He’s The Dude.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why? 

Oh, I don’t know. It’s a good question I’ve never thought of and gives me a headache just thinking of it. I will say that I do not like copycats. I try to make my myths original. 

10. You are also a member of the #WolfPackAuthors. Tell us a bit about your involvement with the group.

Love the interaction, though I can see that the personalities involved and the types of things we are all interested in are quite varied. We’re tied together with the purpose of promoting the work of the members. For that, I am appreciative. As an Indie author, promotion is time consuming and largely confusing. WPA are helping a lot, and Twitter, generally. Nice group. We ought to plan a biennial convention. Seriously, it would be fabulous.

11. What is your greatest passion?

I’m a Christian, so Lord Jesus, His worship and approval. That follows Tolkien who was also a Christian, yet a writer of fantasy and different worlds. I do the same, but am cognizant that I must not deny the faith in my work. A tricky thing to pull off when you write paranormal. But Christianity is supernatural, isn’t it, so I’m right at home.

12. Do you have other talents or hobbies? 

Working out/staying healthy.

13. What are you currently reading?

A work of theology from my favorite theologian, James R. White. I am also a regular listener to his podcast.

14. Are there any new projects in your future?

Working on a short story set in the story world of The Legacy. Actually it’s set in the immediate aftermath of the story, told from the POV of a minor character in The Legacy. 

What’s next for you? 

I need to finish the short story and then concentrate the rest of the year on finishing The Captain of Tally Ho, which I hope will come out summer, 2020. Then on to other sequels in my various mythologies.

15. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch.

Oh, definitely, The Last Kingdom based of the historical novels of Bernard Cornwell. Really good BBC work. Love it and him. Eagerly waiting for the next season.

IT’S HERE! Once Upon A WolfPack: A #WolfPackAuthors Anthology is out today!


Today is an exceptionally exciting day, not only for a whole bunch of authors, but also for the wild wolves at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Los Angeles and the people (most of whom are US Army Veterans) who so tirelessly work at rehabilitating these wolves and giving them a chance at a better life.

Today is the publication day of Once Upon A WolfPack, an anthology of stories written by the members of the #WolfPackAuthors writers’ group in aid of wolves and men alike. Read more about the #WolfPackAuthors and their books here.

Once Upon A WolfPack consists of 555 pages (paperback version) of short fiction in almost every genre out there, the single thing tying them together being the majestic wolf, and the cause for protecting wolves. Each of the #WolfPackAuthors selflessly gave their work for this noble cause, as all proceeds from sales of the book go to Lockwood ARC in aid of their wolves and their wonderful Warriors and Wolves program. Read more about Lockwood Animal Rescue Center here.

To whet your appetite a little, I’ve decided to include a short excerpt from my own story, The Soapmaker’s Mother, which has been taken up in this stunning anthology!

They were gathered on the granite cliffs on North Island, the kin of my kin and their kin and so forth, as they had done these many years past and would continue to do long after my eventual death. I did not recognize their faces. I could not recall their names, but I knew they were my brethren, because we breathed the same air and our souls responded in the same way to the whispers of the wind at night.
I could feel the hunger pooling in the pit of my stomach, as it always did when others of my kind were near. I could feel their warmth radiating outward toward me, as though they were candles and I a moth, drawn inexplicably to their heat, their light, the promise of certain death if I got too close.

María must have felt it too. Or sensed it. I felt her stiffen beside me, her gaze shifting to me in the darkness.
“Do you feel it?” she asked. “Do you feel the way their presence closes around your heart?”
I felt that and more. It was almost as though my skin could feel the sensation of the wind rippling through their hair. It was almost as though my hands could feel the dark soil pushing up against the pads of their clawed paws. And if I turned my head just so, I could smell the stench of fear wafting off their future prey. I could feel the crunch of bones and blood in their maws and I felt both the anticipation before and the satisfaction after the hunt as though it was my own. These things I couldn’t share with María, not when she’d given up so much of herself in return for my freedom.

“I feel it as though I am among them,” I said when María’s eyes remained on me. Even that, I hated knowing, had been a gift from them. That I could know the things I couldn’t see, that I could sense the things I couldn’t hear.
“Do you fear them?” she asked, her breath leaving behind white imprints on the night.
“No,” I replied, though I did fear them for what their presence did to me in their ignorance. The hunger gnawed on my mind. It addled my sense of responsibility and brought forth thoughts a man was not to think when accompanied by a woman with a noble heart. She did not know what danger
she was in, that she’d put her trust in a tainted creature.
“We should not linger,” I suggested, though I would have stayed all night had she not been with me. Just to feel their presence was enough to sustain me for years to come, but what bliss it would have been to join them on the hunt, to feel their excitement surge as they located and felled their
prey.

“You are not safe here.”
“There is no place safe for me in this world,” she whispered before retreating, back the way we’d come.

To read more and to support these wonderful authors, as well as the Wolves and Warriors at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center, get your copy of Once Upon A Wolfpack today! It is available in e-format and paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and other book retailers worldwide. See links below to get your copy now, and if you’re so inclined, please leave a review on your preferred platform!

Thank you for your support, and happy reading!!

Once Upon A WolfPack at Amazon

Once Upon A WolfPack at Barnes & Noble

Once Upon A WolfPack at Rakuten Kobo

Off the beaten track: Art and Culture in the heart of Northern Italy

There is a unique beauty to the way the Italian landscape lends itself to the strive for higher understanding of the human condition. It’s as though its hills are soaked in the sweat of a thousand dukes, working to stake their claim to the greatest centers of art, of culture, of civilization itself. The understated opulence of Northern Italy is steeped in a History both long and bloody, but to the weary traveler, it might be easy to miss some of the historic greats the region has to offer in lieu of making a TripAdvisor bucket-list work.

In December 2018, my husband and I decided to get off the beaten track, away from the bucket-list must-do’s and the less thought-provoking tourist-traps, to a deeper, more personal experience of Northern Italy, both the Northern Italy of today, and the historic one. We flew to Milan, rented a car, and started driving. A short fifteen minutes into our drive, the Italian landscape already started offering up some of its secrets. It knows things unfathomable. It has survived so much that cannot be archived or displayed in museums and tourist attractions. It is both Italy’s greatest monument to its rich cultural tradition and its most unvisited holy site.

With the magical Alps in the rearview mirror (they turn pink in the dusk!), we made the first stop on our journey: Piacenza. Literally translating to “Place of Rest” or “Peaceful abode”, it is hard to believe the initial walled city of Piacenza was built amidst a siege (between the Romans and the Gauls) over two thousand years ago! But as it began that way, it is not that hard to believe that this city would endure conquest and rebuttal for the rest of its history. And yet, its greatest asset lay not in its great thinkers or artists, or any of the great houses it hosted over the centuries, but in its peaceful hills, where the simple folk planted the vineyards and crops that would ultimately turn Piacenza into one of the richest trade-cities in Medieval Europe.

Sticking to our plan to veer away from the traditional method of travel, i.e. rushing from landmark to museum and eating at Internet-approved vendors, we disregarded our host’s suggestions of the top landmarks (there are some great ones, definitely worth the visit for the more traditional traveller), and set out to get a feel for the streets, the locals and the way they live and eat. We visited one of the many tobacconists to find out about an international calling card and bought pastries that speak of divinity from a bakery so small that three men couldn’t stand astride inside it. We had magnificent pizza with the locals at a pizzeria that wouldn’t show up on TripAdvisor or any other travel site (but had a whopping 127 pizzas to choose from!) and we drank the local sparkling red house wine, somewhat to our distaste, while crunching breadsticks and listening to Italians disagreeing about which sports team was the better to support. We weren’t doing anything special. We may as well have been at home. But we weren’t. We were doing the normal, everyday stuff in this place, where a 1700 year old basilica is still in use today, where the Council of Piacenza proclaimed the First Crusade nearly a thousand years ago, where the Sforzas, the Farneses and the Habsburgs all once held courts. This small town of rolling hills and young families walking the streets at night vibrated with historic energy and a culture of kindness so deeply ingrained that we felt oddly at home here and not like tourists at all.

The next day, on our way to Parma, we did a drive-by of historic sites in the Old Town while reveling about the way modern Piacenza’s people had this old-time vibe about them. No one in Piacenza had seemed rushed. Families had walked together to work and school, holding pastries from their local corner shop. The butcher and the flower-shop lady each stood in the doorway to their shop, exchanging pleasantries with each other and passers-by. The easy comfort of it all was deafening in the quiet, sun-lit streets.

We had been to Parma once before, for about an hour, to buy the sought after Parmesan cheese and Parma ham (prosciutto), both of which can be bought anywhere in Parma and enjoyed anywhere in the world. If you’ve tried the local Parmesan product, no trip to Italy can ever be complete without it again, so we opted for another afternoon stop in Parma, mainly in pursuit of local gourmet. The cheese tastes better in Parma and the ham is an offering from the gods that should not go unappreciated or ignored! Pair it with Balsamic Vinegar from nearby Modena, Genovese Pesto and locally baked bread, and you might find yourself longing for simpler times, when bread was broken with family, in small gatherings filled with love and laughter and little else.

What kind of a town must Parma be, we wondered as we pulled away from a local shopping center, if its people could take something as banal as cheese and ham, and make it remarkable? What kind of a place produces food that makes you crave the simplicity of country life? The answer, perhaps, is not in Parma’s governance or economy or even its great educative history, but in a deep respect the locals hold for heritage and culture, and its magnificently beautiful countryside. We will have to find out properly later, however, because even though we’ve been to Parma twice, we’ve never “visited”. When we finally do, I’ll be sure to tell all about it here!

Our next stopover was in the heart of the wonderfully musical city of Bologna, home of the other leaning tower.

As capital of the Emilia Romagna region, Bologna is the quintessential hub of the region’s culture and cuisine. Like most other cities in the region, Bologna predates the Roman Period and is essentially Etruscan in origin. Bologna is also home to the Western world’s oldest (continuously operating) University, an institution that to this day is at the heart of this city’s unique culture. In fact, I would go so far to say that walking in the old-town was like being on a vast, ancient university campus, surrounded by happy, confident students and modern comforts.

The night-life in this city was vibrant, in an old-worldly kind of way. Young people congregated in its squares and many restaurants to discuss concerts and plays. Its exceptional cuisine and local gourmet was visible and obtainable from stall-like shops which stayed open late, serving passionate Italians and curious visitors every kind of delicacy the north has to offer. Street-musicians of exceptional quality made offerings to the public on street corners. Bologna was buzzing with life, and as the richest city in Italy (and regularly voted the city with the highest quality of living in Italy), we could see why.

At the very heart of this city of modern chic and ancient opulence, the other leaning tower, the Garisenda, leaned away from one of the busiest streets in Bologna (as well as another, taller tower, the Assinelli). Looking upon the two towers for the first time was both a marvel and a great consternation. To me they seemed impossible; one for its height, the other for having remained upright for hundreds of years despite leaning so very, very much. But they are remarkable. So remarkable that Dante Alighieri, who himself was once a student at the University of Bologna, immortalized one of them in his seminal Divine Comedy:

What an incredible feeling, visiting this ancient city and sharing an experience with the Supreme Poet! After seeing the two towers, we were tempted to revert back to the old bucket-list experience and rush around Bologna, trying to soak it all up in record time, but we didn’t. Instead we visited a local luthier and heard him play one of his wonderful violins, we watched through a shop-window as women rolled out and hand-cut pasta and we asked one of the locals to parallel park our car in the narrowest two-way street known to mankind. We also had something resembling Bolognese, which was underwhelming and somewhat overpriced, after which we opted for a much better received pizza. We drank the local sparkling red wine, which had something on the Piacenzan variety and we walked all across the old town to visit a Christmas Market, and then a local food market, both of which offered the very best of northern Italian culture and cuisine. In this process of avoiding the tried and tested, we stumbled upon beautiful discoveries: the kindness of strangers, the magnificent architecture of ancient Italy, and an inherent culture of appreciation for life and all its finest things – art, music, food and time spent with friends and family. Had Dante’s Bologna boasted these traits?

The last stop on our trip was a place so majestically beautiful that it is an artwork in and of itself. The old town of Mantua, or Mantova in Italian, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been lovingly maintained and protected and as such remains virtually untouched by modernity.

Mantua is an ancient city in every respect. The first evidence of habitation in the vicinity of modern-day Mantua dates back to the Neolithic period, in the 5th millennium BC. Just as the other centers we visited, the village of Mantua was initially settled by the Etruscans around the 6th century BC, before eventually becoming a Roman colony.

To enter the ancient city of Mantua, we had to cross one of the three (remaining) artificial lakes and natural defenses that still surrounds it today and pass through the time-space continuum into another century. After buying a time-stamped parking pass from our hotel (as a World Heritage Site, motor vehicle traffic in Mantua is strictly controlled), we set out for a walkabout through the old town. First stop, somewhat conveniently located next to our hotel, was the Piazza Sordello, the square on which the Mantuan Ducal Palace sits.

The Ducal Palace on Palazzo Sordello in Mantua.

The Duchy of Mantua (read House of Gonzaga), was once one of the great duchies in Europe. It not only enjoyed a heritage rich in the arts, architecture and music, but also cultivated among its constituents a fondness for this heritage that can still be seen and felt in its streets and buildings today. This was evident on the Piazza Sordello, where the palace of old watches quietly as modern Mantuans go about their day, visiting the small but beautiful cathedral with its impressive facade, one of the many restaurants in the area, or the underground archaeological excavation of an ancient Etruscan home, complete with mosaic floors and sub-divided rooms.

As in Piazza Sordello, so the rest of the old town bustled with life and signs of this city’s great artistic tradition. Advertisements for everything from informal music evenings to professional opera and theatre were abound in hotel lobbies, souvenir shops and restaurants. Around the back of the cathedral, we unexpectedly came upon (the fictional) Rigoletto’s House, which in actuality is a small building housing the local information center, as well as an exhibition of photographs of Mantua. Here we were told about the local Christmas Market (on Piazza Virgilliana, named after the great Virgil, who was from Mantua!), and how to get to it, so after stopping at a souvenir shop for our very own Rigoletto keepsake, we headed down the cobbled streets of Mantua to check out how locals celebrate Christmas. We were not disappointed. As European Christmas Markets go, Mantua’s Christmas Village is a must visit. It was a cold night, and late at that, but the athmosphere in this place couldn’t have been more inviting had we been surrounded by our own friends and family. The kids ice skated on the makeshift ice rink in the center of the village, while Mantuans enjoyed hot drinks and Italian street food and shopped the array of high quality hand-crafted items. Art too, of course.

With bags full of Italian goodies to try and to take home with us, we headed for a restaurant we’d noticed near our hotel. Built into the alcove of the original palace stalls and servant quarters, the Duke’s Tavern boasted a menu of Mantuan gourmet, specializing in the local delicacy, donkey meat. As donkey stew was a bit above our budget, we opted for another local favorite, sweet pumpkin and ricotta ravioli, served with a flavorful citrus oil that both surprised and delighted. Along with it, we ordered antipasto and the local wine, which was definitely the best we’d had on the trip.

The next morning, after being served the two best coffees I’ve ever had the privilege of tasting (at Il Trovatore), we headed to the Ducal Palace for a bit of history. We visited the queen’s rooms, the most fascinating exhibit on inlay art (A MUST SEE!), the king’s quarters and war room and the gardens. The Camera degli Sposi (painted by the massively talented Mantegna) is undoubtedly one of the greats the Ducal Palace has to offer, and it came to us as a gift, as we had purposefully done no prior research, hoping each town would invite us in and show us the way. Mantua lead us straight to its magnificent palatial complex where we were awed and fascinated in equal measure not only by the artistic achievements championed by the Duchy of Mantua, but also by the complexity of its history.

After visiting the Ducal Palace, we walked through town, sightseeing in the true sense of the word. As in the other centers we’d visited, perhaps even more so, this town spoke of a spirit of conviviality and a vitality that can only be achieved where the underlying emotion is one of happiness, or at the very least a great sense of contentment. Which brought us to the great question: were the inhabitants of these towns privy to a well-kept secret, the greatest secret in life, perhaps? That to achieve true contentment, it is necessary to surround yourself with great art, excellent food, and perhaps above all, a history and tradition worth monumentalizing?

We did not have time to visit the Palazzo Te, Mantua’s answer to Italian art, but I include here a video by the wonderful Michael DeMarco about Giulio Romano’s Room of the Giants (Sala dei Giganti), a whole room in Palazzo Te dedicated to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I look forward to visiting it on my next visit to Mantua, and so should you!

You will notice that I barely name attractions or artworks in this post. This is not because we failed to see any or to remember them, but because this is not a travel blog as much as it is a perspective on traveling. I want to encourage you to attempt this kind of traveling, to experience the road less traveled, to let your destination open itself and all it has to offer up to you. You may make new friends, learn unexpected things and see the little things no one ever dares to look for.

Good luck on your journey. May your path be filled with great new discoveries.

Special thanks to Michael DeMarco. Read more about him here and be sure to subscribe to his very awesome art/lit video log here.

Once upon a Wolfpack: A #WolfPackAuthors Anthology COMING SOON!

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. That is why we writers tend to band together and stick together. We move in groups (or packs!), typically the quiet types that are active at night but the members of which look out for each other in ways our non-writing friends and family simply can’t. I have the privilege of being part of such a group, the very aptly named #WolfPackAuthors. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this fantastic group of authors in the future, but for now, just one very exciting announcement! The #WolfPackAuthors’ first short story anthology is about to hit the book-world and it is going to knock your socks off!

The anthology is a collection of stories from members of the #WolfPackAuthors and it is all about the majestic wolf. But this anthology is so much more than just a book about wolves. It is a labor of love. Not just the love of writing, but the love of real live wild wolves. That’s right! All the proceeds from the sales of “Once Upon A WolfPack” will go towards the rehabilitation and conservation of wolves. More specifically the wolves at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Los Angeles. But not only that, the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center also provides a sanctuary for others, such as the countless veterans who returned from the front struggling to find their place among society again. These veterans come to Lockwood ARC to feel the healing touch of wolves, even as these wolves need them to look out for their safety and future. It’s a perfect symbiosis!

Learn more about Lockwood Animal Rescue here.

Check out the individual members of the #WolfPackAuthors and their very awesome books at the brand new #WolfPackAuthors section of this page. The #WolfPackAuthors truly have something for every reader!

And finally, watch this space for pre-order details and an exclusive excerpt from my latest short story, The Soap Maker’s Mother, which has been included in the anthology!

Support the #WolfPackAuthors and you support animal welfare!

Romance, masochism and the lure of misogyny in the romance novel

For as long as I can remember, the month of February has been associated with romantic love and its celebration. Every year, Cupid, St. Valentine and Hallmark conspire to make people the world over feel guilty for not making enough grand gestures or declarations of everlasting devotion to their partners, crushes and/or secret lovers. It would seem that love is a thing universally craved, and even those who have it want to be reminded regularly that they still do. But are love and romance really that simple?

This week, the day of love, St. Valentine’s Day, will be widely celebrated and women (and some men) across the globe will read more romance novels than any other genre out there. They will read Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Historic Romance, Gothic Romance, Regency Romance, Paranormal Romance, Erotica and a host of other sub-genres to do with the topic of love. This is also true all the other weeks of the year, as Romance is the most read genre today, by a fairly large margin. But what makes Romance such a popular genre for (predominantly female) readers, and why is it that they just can’t seem to get enough?

The answer, according to Sarah Frantz Lyons, is that:

“Women write and read romance heroes to examine, subvert, discuss, revel in, and reject patriarchal constructions of masculinity…” (see “More on the business of Romance novels” in Further Reading at the end of this post.)

While this statement is certainly true, it also massively simplifies the way the romance novel is received by the average reader. Not only does the romance novel not belong strictly to female authorship, but it isn’t strictly written for women, and never was. The romance novel isn’t simply about gender roles or sexuality either. There is an expectation of the genre, now more than ever, to also allow the reader to change their mind about their own boundaries and expectations of romance, love and/or sex, and perhaps on a more subtle level, of sex in the loveless relationship. And while not all romance novels concentrate on the sexual aspects of a relationship, it is inevitable that even the most demure novels in the genre must affect a reader’s sexual sensibilities, or in the very least, their expectations regarding intimacy within the constraints of a relationship.
But what of the novels we don’t normally speak about: the BDSM, the 50 Shades of Submission, the novels of forbidden desires?

Since E.L. James’ iconic 50 Shades series, erotica has made a comeback unlike any other genre in our time. Women feel empowered by it. Relationships have grown in ways sex therapists can only dream of achieving with their customers and the Internet has exploded with offspring novels on all manner of erotica, vanilla or taboo. And while true connoisseurs of erotica would call the 50 Shades series closer to vanilla than taboo, it is hard to discredit what the novels did for the Romance genre, and for the perception of sex in general.
But why now, and why this, when erotica is in no way new to the game of literary escapism?

According to Wikipedia, (where all legitimate research is spawned 🙂 ), mainstream society simply didn’t care about erotic texts and art until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Even after the invention of the printing press, printing was only obtainable by the rich and culturally discerning, and as such, erotica was supposedly a rare commodity afforded only by the truly sordid, or sexually eccentric (male) patron.

In actuality, this is probably quite far from the truth. From the histories and mythologies of almost every continent, it is clear that human sexuality was at the forefront of the ancient mind. In fact, erotica has been around for a very, very long time in some form or another, as is evident from the countless ancient artifacts to do with the erotic human body and behavior. The devout Christian may turn to their Bible for some of the earliest surviving sensual texts (see Songs of Solomon). The very first book of the Bible even points out the state of sexual tendencies in its time through the mention of Sodom and God’s extrication of Lot and (some) members of his family. Here we also get a first glimpse of the misogyny that can be traced alongside the history of the erotic act, as though they go hand in hand. Did Lot not throw his teenage daughters into the crowd of sodomizers in order to facilitate his own escape?

This sodomy that the Bible refers to likely stemmed from the prevailing Greek and Roman world view that the human body was beautiful to look at, and should therefore be celebrated. Such “celebrations” had a tendency to take on orgiastic proportions, and no sexual act, apart from kissing in public, was considered too salacious for the likes of the Greek or Roman patrician. But earlier still, the sexual nature of the human body was exalted in text and art (and thus likely also physically) from Egypt, through the Middle East and India and as far as Japan. Some of the earliest works of erotica, such as the famed Kama Sutra, remain popular today, even in its unchanged form.

On Masochism and Misogyny

In my personal experience, the full spectrum of the Romance genre can be sub-divided by three hero-types:

The brooding bad boy (or misunderstood sadist?)
The well-to-do millionaire/duke/prince/king
The strong-ish female lead (or sexually inexperienced career-woman?)

In some of the more successful, if not well-written modern romances, these hero-types may be combined, or all may be present at once. And after reading a great deal of novels from almost every sub-type within the genre, I have come to the conclusion that the most successful romance novels will present at least two of these hero types. Interestingly enough, the two most financially successful romance stories in recent history, The Twilight series and (dare I mention it again?) the 50 Shades of Grey series, present with all three. But what about the romances that paved the way for these modern versions of the genre? Surely they have something in common with their modern contenders?

In the case of the Twilight series (and most paranormal romance), a comparison can be drawn with the great gothic novels that inspired them. Due to the author’s careful placement of Wuthering Heights within the series, it can be assumed that the classic novel was, at least in part, responsible for inspiring the brooding monster (Edward), the all-consuming relationship (Edward and Bella) and the tragic choices the heroine (Bella) makes, for better or for worse. There’s even the classic love-triangle (Edward – Bella – Jacob) that the Bronte sisters were so fond of. The resolution, that the child born from their union instills in all connected to the couple love and hope for the future (and forgives all past wrongdoings), is truly Victorian in spirit.

The books make use of the tragic (read brooding) hero, who happens to also be a millionaire who cannot die. This seems circumstantial, but it isn’t. It is an important construct for both the author of successful romance and the reader of romantic fiction: an invincible hero, who has the means both to protect and to provide. And because of these things, because for centuries women have been indoctrinated with the importance of finding a protector and provider, readers of romance do not acknowledge the misogyny in this construct: that women need protection, and to be provided for, and that men may therefore offer those services to them in return for a lifetime of submission.

The 50 Shades series, which in the author’s own words were inspired by the one and only Twilight series, draws on these same elements. But in deepening the sexual nature of the relationships, E.L. James also heightens the level of misogyny the books portray. And yet, women the world over swoon for Christian Grey. He is powerful, is he not?

To illustrate the way that masochism meets misogyny in romantic fiction, it is necessary to go back. Way back. To Leopold von Sacher Masoch and his Venus in Furs, which is perhaps better explained, in the context of the art and literature of its time, by Michael DeMarco in the excellent video below.

Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly most noticeable aspect of von Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs, is the role reversal that takes place here. Not only is the author male, but the protagonist is male too, and in juxtaposition to him, a female in position of power and financial stability is given the task of domineering and dominating the relationship. But she does not receive that power implicitly. She is made to do it, almost coerced into the agreement, on the basis of her ineffectiveness as an equal partner and lover. This ineffectiveness is mentioned in many guises by Severin, the masochist male protagonist, throughout the book. Severin, in his appearance as a doting and devoted lover, is also a true misogynist. He points out that if he cannot own his wife in all things, then he would rather not marry at all. The opposite excites him equally, perhaps more; he is to be owned by his mistress, and mistreated a great deal, to his extreme pleasure. This is not a form of respect for the woman he loves, however. In fact, despite her repeated pronouncements that she is not interested in the kind of relationship he proposes, Severin does not take into account her needs and wishes for a fulfilling relationship. He disregards her wishes completely, even in becoming her devoted slave. This kind of “loveless” love seems to be a common theme even in modern romance. In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey decides that he has to have Anastasia Steele at any cost, as long as it is on his terms. Her wants and needs are provided for, so long as they remain domestic in nature and not emotional. In erotica, women are bribed, coerced, tricked and even dared by friends to participate in the kinds of schemes that fulfill their male counterpart’s fantasy, even if it goes very much against their own moral codes. Again, these are not the acts of love. And while such a love-interest’s overbearing presence might often be very carefully disguised as loving or at least caring, in reality any rational person would label such behavior as selfish and narcissistic.
But the prevailing thread that runs through romance novels throughout time, is the substantiation of the patriarchal construction of masculinity that makes romance readers swoon and feel cherished and imagine great, strong men sweeping them off their feet. In reality, their misogynist origin is often cleverly disguised in the old positivity-sandwich, as Severin’s statement does here, but it is equally often propagated by the female character’s own thoughts and decision-making, as we will see a little later on.

“In woman and her beauty I saw something divine, because the most important function of existence –the continuation of the species- is her vocation.” – Venus in Furs, Fernanda Savage translation, page 32.

This statement also explains something about the nature of sex and love in romantic fiction, and perhaps how it came to be thus. Women are not expected to admit to enjoying sex, as Wanda does at first. In doing so, they become immediately wanton creatures who participate in promiscuous activities, or who are suspected of being willing to do so. As Severin suggests here, women’s primary “vocation” is supposed to be the continuation of the species. Therefore they are expected to be inexperienced or virginal (unless they are already mothers of many children), they should want relationships that create a safe haven for them to fulfill this “vocation”, and they should do so in a “loving”, submissive way. Those of them who do not comply with this set of rules are considered cruel, ineffective partners who are only good for engaging in off-balance relationships and sexual deviancy. In the romance novel, the true measure of love is inextricably tied to eventual marriage, and children. This is the ultimate outcome of the “Happily Ever After” model.

Considering that Venus in Furs was first published in 1870, at the height of the era of the Victorian romance novel, it is important to note the underlying trend in this novella. This is a romance, written by a man, and it is likely meant as a warning of sorts for other men of its time. It is meant to be a book about love, but there is hardly love in the actions of either Wanda or Severin. The only time love is potentially exhibited, it goes hand in hand with the sexual nature of their relationship. Wanda repeatedly claims to love Severin, but she is unwilling to marry him and be faithful to only him, because he is not “man enough” for her.

“I can easily imagine belonging to one man for my entire life, but he would have to be a whole man, a man who would dominate me, who would subjugate me by his innate strength…” she explains when Severin asks her to become his wife. And furthermore, if he manages to win her by being this kind of man she would become his wife, and a wife “who will conscientiously and strictly perform all her duties.”

So what constitutes the proper level of masculinity in her opinion, is a man who is known for cruelty and mistreatment of others. A rich man, no less, and this is the kind of man she chooses over the man she claims to love more than anything in existence. And it is almost as though this added status, him being a man of means and/or position, excuses his cruelty (50 Shades comes to mind here). This sexist view of the male-female relationship goes exactly against Wanda’s early pronouncements about her own pagan beliefs of pleasure without pain, and yet, like every heroine in every romance, classic or modern, this rich, cruel man, who will dominate her in everything she does, is the man she eventually chooses. Not only does she choose him, but in her submission to him, she also gains power for herself. She allows her husband-to-be to beat her lover and she praises him for it and humiliates her lover by laughing at him. Ultimately, she receives this power over her lover by becoming a masochist herself. Yet, in the end, Wanda suggests her cruelest act was also her greatest declaration of love and devotion for Severin, because she wanted to free him of his masochism.

The most surprising realization, for me, is that while masochism claims to hand over power to another, to victimize the masochist, physically and emotionally, it achieves just the opposite. Because masochism gives consent, it gives the masochist a greater power, even, than their dominator. All acts committed against them are in aid of their pleasure and all ill treatment of them is by their request and expectation. As Leopold von Sacher Masoch shows in his Venus of Furs, the agreement with his Venus not only empowers him to receive the treatment he so desperately craves, but it entitles him to it. And what does he give in return? Nothing. His misogyny towards his Venus prevents her from having true power in the relationship, to claim that which she craves above all: uncomplicated love. She can only receive this power by becoming a martyr, a masochist, herself.

It would appear that there is nothing uncomplicated about love at all. Especially where the romance novel is concerned. But then, whoever said that love was uncomplicated? No masochist, I suppose. They suffer in love.

The Masochism Tango

Afterthoughts:

About Leopold von Sacher Masoch:

While Venus in Furs was a work of fiction that, in any day, would have won the author great admiration for his understanding of the human condition and the psychology behind masochistic tendencies, that admiration quickly dwindled among his peers when they later learned that von Sacher Masoch himself, was in fact, a masochist. Just like in the case of Marquis de Sade, von Sacher Masoch’s name will forever be tied to his “perversion” – masochism.

About Michael DeMarco:

Michael DeMarco is a Massachusetts litigation attorney who specializes in child welfare and consumer protection. His practice is in Norfolk County. In 2017, he self-published a work of historical fiction entitled Redemption Lost, which follows a Dutchman through the global economic network of the 17th century. He now produces YouTube videos in which he discusses various artistic, musical and literary works from Milton’s Paradise Lost to Maria Callas’ interpretive performance of Bellini’s Norma.
You can subscribe to his YouTube video log here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCK8AGpMGhicIffdsFxkBTVw/featured

Further reading:

Get your copy of Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher Masoch here:


More on the business of Romance novels

More on Ancient Erotica

More on BDSM

Special thanks to Bragi Thor Valsson for the suggestion of the Masochism Tango.

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with R. M. Garino (@RMGarino)

This is it! The ultimate ‘New Kids on the Blog’ blog for 2018! And here to help us leave behind the old and usher in the new is Richard Garino, husband, father and author of a brand new book fit to skip a New Years Eve party for. Looking forward to 2019, I’m hoping to talk to a host of new authors, introduce some new sections to the blog and, of course, most importantly, doing a great deal of writing! But more about me next year. Check out my interview with Richard below and be sure to grab his books to help you start 2019 with great fanfare.

Richard Garino, Author of the ‘Chaos of Souls’ series.

“There are a great deal of books out there. We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort in telling our story, and crafting an experience for the reader. An enormous amount of time went into the execution of the cover design, as well as the interior layout, and the website: http://www.rmgarino.com/. We’ve paid attention to the editing, the story telling, the characters, and the plotlines. What we’ve tried to create is an immersive experience where the reader can get lost in the world. That’s why the books are larger than the average ebook. We want you to sit and stay for a while.”

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve been writing for most of my life. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with what The Story is, how it functions, its hidden depths, and the different masks it wears. I live in the mountains of the east coast [of the USA] with my wife, three children, and all the characters still waiting their turn to speak. I am an avid brewer of beer and strong coffee, a voracious reader, an aficionado of fine cigars and single malt scotch, and am not nearly as obsessed with video games as my wife believes me to be.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your books.

One day my wife, Dorothy, mentioned to me that she would not want to meet an angel. You think you’d want to, but the reality of such a creature would be so terrifying, so awe inspiring, that you would feel insignificant. We tossed the idea back and forth, building on the concept, and found ourselves with this: what if what we think we know about angels is all wrong? What if those that fell were the good guys, and the bad guys were the angels who remained true?

In essence, that is the basis of the Chaos of Souls series. Here, we have a host of angels who defied the Creator’s command and entered the world. As punishment, they were ripped apart, shattered into millions of tiny fragments, shuffled, mixed with matter and reformed. They know what they once were, but they have forgotten why they left. These are the Lethen’al. The angels who remained true have learned to enter creation, hidden in the folds of matter, and they hunt the fallen angels. They are the Lo’ademn. One in particular they call the Apostate, who was charged to guard the way back. He has grown weary of his exile, and seeks to gather their fractured souls and return them to Heaven.

The Lethen’al have withstood the Apostate’s assaults for thousands of years, hidden away behind the walls of the Golden Vale.

As the series begins, Angus and Arielle arrive at the Gates that separate their world from that of creation. They are Lethen’al, but their souls are almost complete, and they remember more than the others. Book 1, The Gates of Golorath, tells of how they meet and are drawn together, even though the Blademasters and their squads try to keep them apart. As they grow closer, everything around them is affected.

Book 2 of the series, Angels of Perdition, has just been released, and it picks up where Gates left off. The opposition to Angus and Arielle’s union is removed, and as their marriage approaches, the parents of the Lethen’al, the E’ine, emerge from the shadows. They bring with them the threat of the Soul Chamber, and children begin to disappear.

3. What motivates you to write?

Not quite sure how to answer this one without sounding like a lunatic. Writing is a compulsion for me. I started crafting stories when I was ten, and I’ve never stopped. Everything I look at I try to describe. I look at how events come together, leading to the (seemingly) inevitable conclusion. Daydreaming is a common practice, as is playing with words. In fact, writing keeps me balanced and able to handle life. There have been times where I was too busy or preoccupied to write for long stretches of time, and I was miserable. It was hell. I don’t recommend it to anyone. As soon as I start chasing down the characters and let them tell their tales, all is well in the world.

4. What is your writers’ Achilles Heel?

Learning that the book, story, or essay is never going to be as good as I want it to be, imagined it to be, or expected it to be. And, that is ok. For a long time, I kept my work in notebooks, keeping them only for myself. I’d never be as good as Milton, or Hemingway, so why bother? I think it was the acceptance of this fact that allowed me to move past it. As long as I fought it, and tried to prove it wrong, my work was stilted and stagnant. Eventually, I got fed up, said to hell with it all, and just wrote the damned story already. I wasn’t great. But it was okay. Sometimes, that’s enough.

5. Your new book, Angels of Perdition, is the second in a fantasy series in which two worlds collide, good is measured against evil and those who are hidden by shadows are not necessarily on the wrong side of the conflict. What is your personal connection to the setting and characters in your book?

So, I was walking home one night from I forget where. This was way back in the day – I’m talking cassette tape in a Walkman way back. As was my norm, I was listening to Queensryche on my headphones, the song “En Force” from the “Warning” album playing. This was what I loved about listening to music; it lifts you out of yourself. Anyway, in my head, I see an elf burst from the cover of trees at night, and run through the tall grass of the plains. I ran along beside him for a while, trying to figure out who he was and why he was running. He was too fast, and I lost him. Or I got to my door. I’m not sure which. It was back in the day, after all. But, the image stuck with me. Over the years, I came to understand that it wasn’t an elf, but rather an angel, or more precisely a Lethen’al.

6. Which character(s) do you most closely associate with, and why?

Rastef Rhom De’Veldrin, the Forever Man, the Son of the Apostate. In the series, he is created as the perfect vessel for his father / Creator, the Apostate Tarek. Rastef is ancient, cannot die, and as a result, has the most unusual ways of looking at things.

7. Is there something you didn’t know about a character in the first book that revealed itself to you during the writing of the second?

Logan Fel’Mekrin. I did not realize he was handicapped when I wrote book 1. In the Gates of Golorath, he is present for only a handful of chapters at the end. It was not until I wrote about his trials in the Sur, the Otherworld, that I began to realize that he was unable to communicate with the other Lethen’al telepathically. This is a common ability, and being unable to do so keeps him isolated and alone. I came to understand that a lot of his arrogance and aloofness were defense mechanisms.

8. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

Books. I love discussing books, and the craft of writing; everything from word choice to sentence structure, from drafting to editing and back again. Not exactly the academics of it, but rather, the metacognitive mechanics. How the plot worked, how the characters were developed, whether or not the setting was given enough consideration.

9. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

Not many annoy me. The only one that gives me pause is “Who are your characters based off of?” To be honest, they’re not based on anyone I have ever met in reality. While each character is unique in its own right, they are sometimes hard to find. I will oftentimes have to chase them down, writing page after page before I figure out their voice. But, that discovery is part of the fun of writing.

10. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco had a tremendous impact on me. It was the first ‘interpretive history’ book I’d read, and the first to really challenge the ideas I held about the world. Throughout the book it comes through that he’s playing, having fun with symbols and history. However, the book is so well done that you get the sneaking suspicion that while reading it on the subway, maybe you should hide the fact that you’re reading it, or else they’ll know that you know. The experience changed the way I looked at the world: I realized that it really is tinged with a touch of comedy to temper the overarching tragedy; and we view the world through a filter of our own making, and that this filter can be shifted and trans-mutated through our understanding. In the end, reality really is what you make of it.

Dune by Frank Herbert was another. The sweeping arc of its history, and how that history influenced the course of events in the story swept me away. In its own right, the novel can stand on its own as it tells the story of Mua’dib’s struggle for and rise to power. But even that is firmly influenced by the rest of the histories that came before it. The same holds true for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with the firmness with which the story is set within the confines of a much larger mythology. Both of these prove the idea that the story you read does not need to contain every word written about it.

11. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. It’s got to be one of the greatest novels ever written. Not only does he want revenge, he’s delivered the means to contrive it. How awesome is that?

12. What is your greatest passion?

So, my wife tells me it’s her. Actually, its writing with her. We’re a great team. She sees what it is I am trying to do, and helps me take it to another level entirely. One of the greatest days of my life was when she decided to help me, and join me on my little obsession train. Now that I think about it, she was right all along.

13. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I brew beer, paint, draw, am obsessed with knives and various other weapons, and am an avid reader.

14. What are you currently reading?

I just finished The Immune by David Kazzie last night. I’m a bit of a post-apocalyptic junkie. I plan on starting The Axe and the Throne by M.D Ireman in the next day or two.

15. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

We’ll be releasing two novellas soon. These will be stand-alone stories, but will still take place in the Chaos universe. Both were written while working on Angels of Perdition. As I’ve mentioned, I need to sometimes chase a character down. Sometimes, it is a very long chase, and these were too good to just let go of. In addition to that, we have book 3, The Gathering of the Blades, to release in 2019, and a post-apocalyptic series that we’re working on as well.

16. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch!

The Haunting of Hill House. The characters are well rounded, well thought out, and the storyline keeps you guessing.

For more information about R.M. Garino, visit his website by clicking here.
If you are an author or promoter of books in any capacity and would like to be featured on this blog, send me a line about yourself and your book(s) to secure your spot.

Now, go forth, be spontaneous, ring in the New Year, and be ready for the great adventure that will be 2019!

Have a happy and extremely blessed 2019. Preferably filled with great books!

New Kid on the Blog: Zoe Tasia (@ZoeTasia)

This week of thankfulness and great shopping also brings another lovely thing with it: my special Thanksgiving edition of New Kids on the Blog, in which I have the privilege of sharing with you what I’ve learned of the beautiful Zoe Tasia! Book-lover extraordinaire, author and mother of two, Zoe is also co-author of a couple of wonderful books, which you’ll want to add to your TBR pile asap! Read the interview below to get to know Zoe a bit better, then grab a copy of one of her books to complete the experience. And have the Happiest Thanksgiving, or Thursday or whatever 😉

I remember the excitement I felt when I could pick out and read my first book. It brought me so much joy. I felt like new worlds were open to me and the experience seemed miraculous. I’ve been an insatiable reader ever since and always thought being an author would be the best job ever.

1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an Okie. I grew up in a small town and graduated from the University of Oklahoma where I met my husband. We have two sons. Our youngest was born in Scotland, our home for over seven years after which we moved to Texas and remain.
I remember the excitement I felt when I could pick out and read my first book. It brought me so much joy. I felt like new worlds were open to me and the experience seemed miraculous. I’ve been an insatiable reader ever since and always thought being an author would be the best job ever.

2. You are an author and the other half of a writing team. Tell us about your books.

I co-author with Minette Lauren under the name Zari Reede. We have three books out. Our first book, Daisy Dukes ‘n Cowboy Boots, is a west Texas romance.
When a rich banker hires handsome lawyer Nolan Anderson to find a way to acquire certain acreage, Ferina Kincaid must struggle not only to keep her ranch, but to resist the attraction she feels for Nolan.

Our second book, Blinked, is a zany fantasy.
Mindy Nichols’s job is to destroy the diverse, violent beings transported, or “blinked”, to Earth. Then she meets Winnalea, the first “blinked” being that didn’t viciously attack. Mindy can’t kill the sweet, helpful woman who calls herself a Brownie. To complicate matters, Mindy’s husband, Jim, has “blinked” to Winnalea’s home world. Follow them as Mindy fights to follow her conscience and stand up to her boss and Jim navigates a topsy-turvy fairytale world inhabited by Cyclops, witches and dwarves.

Our third book, available for preorder, is a psychological thriller, Sins of the Sister. Private investigator Lana Madison knows her twin sister lives and will stop at nothing to find her. No matter how dangerous it is.

Preorder here!

3. What motivates you to write?

It’s inherent and a part of who I am, my identity. I’ve always had a great imagination and told stories before I could write them down.

4. What is your writers’ Achilles Heel?

I dread editing, but the worst is writing blurbs. Coming up with only a few sentences to explain your book and entice readers is so difficult.

5. Your latest book, Blinked, is an urban fantasy set in the 70s. What is your personal connection to this historic period/the characters in your book?

My reason for choosing the time period was two-fold. I wanted the setting to be in the past so the characters would have communication difficulties and their world would be lower tech. However, I also wanted the era to be one with which I had some familiarity. I grew up in the 70s and it was a time of turmoil and eye-opening experiences, so I thought it was fitting.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

I have readers?! I still get giddy about that. I’m happy discussing anything book-related. Be it my own or someone else’s. I particularly enjoy answering questions where I’m able to elaborate and share facets of the character that are not revealed in the book.

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

I can’t think of one particular question, but the attitude that anyone can be an author, easy-peasy and, that when I’m busy doing my job, it isn’t looked upon as being as important bothers me.

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was important because it was the first book I read by an Oklahoman author and, holy moly! The author’s a woman! I realized that yes, being a writer was possible. S.E. Hinton did it, maybe this Oklahoman girl could too. The Wizard of Oz by Baum was the first fantasy series book I read, my introduction to one of my most favorite genres. My love of it also made me more open to other genres like science fiction. Diana Gabaldon’s first book, Outlander, was published as Cross Stitch in the UK where I read it. In fact, I met her at a book signing there. I was amazed she had never visited Scotland until after she wrote her novel. I wouldn’t have guessed and it gave me confidence to write about places and things I knew nothing about, at least until I researched, or experienced.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. The premise is clever, the humor cracks me up, and I love the unusual formatting.

10. What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome as an author?

While I lived in Aberdeen, I had viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain due to a virus. I don’t remember six weeks of my life. I had numerous seizures and memory loss. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t follow a simple sitcom. Time passed. I healed. I got most of my memories back and my short-term memory improved enough that I could read a book again. Prior to the illness, I took several writing courses and submitted some short stories. I felt I was really making progress and on my way to becoming an author. It took me a long time to get the confidence to write again, but eventually I did. My co-author suggested a writing exercise. She sent me the first paragraph of a story which I added on to and sent back. This eventually became our first book.

11. What are some of your triumphs as an author?

Getting published will never cease to give me joy and a sense of accomplishment. I’m thrilled that my first solo book, Kilts and Catnip (Book 1 of The Shrouded Isle Series), is coming out soon. I’ve been on a book panel and multiple book signings. Maybe someday, it will all seem commonplace, but now, every little authorly thing elates me.

We are lucky enough to get the very first look at the cover of Kilts and Catnip, Zoe Tasia’s first solo publication!

12. You have a book blog where you also review/discuss books. What prompted you to start blogging about books? Do you have a favorite genre and why?

At some level, I knew reviews were important, but I didn’t start writing them until I read a book by a new indie author and saw that he had just a handful of reviews. I couldn’t believe someone that wrote so well didn’t have more fans, so I wrote a review of his book to get the news out. I began a blog shortly before Daisy Dukes came out and quickly discovered that I’m not a big blogger. Since I already wrote reviews, I started posting them on my site.
I enjoy fantasy the most, where anything can happen.

13. What was the first book you blogged about, and why?

The first book I blogged about was Thicker Than Blood by Andrew Dudek. He didn’t have many reviews plus he had a couple of bad ones which can bring down the star rating quite a bit. I liked the book and wanted to be supportive.

Read the review here.

14. What is your greatest passion?

Reading and writing, of course. Cats, … I’m bonkers for cats and follow Catlady on social media.

15. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I’m a bit of a fitness freak. As the kid that was the last one to be picked for a team, the fact that I ran a marathon amazes me. I love dancing and took classes as a child. I used to Greek dance with a group, but after I tore my meniscus, I gave it up. I tried belly dancing, which was great fun.

16. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading a fantasy book by Rick Gualtieri, Sunset Strip.

17. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing Book 2 of The Shrouded Isle series, tentatively titled Tartan and Thyme. I also plan to write Shrouded Isle holiday short stories. I have one ready to publish and several others I’m working on. I have written the first of another fantasy series that I need to edit and several projects I’ve begun and need to finish. I’m exploring other genres such as cozy mystery and magical realism.

18. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch ☺

The latest good one I saw was season one of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but if you haven’t seen Red Dwarf or one of my “why-was-this-cancelled?” favorites, Wonderfalls, you should.

What a great lady! And some awesome new suggestions for reads and series! Thank you, Zoe!
Now, there’s really only one more thing left to do (apart from stuffing your face with turkey): go to AuthorShout’s website and vote for my own book, The Deermaster. You know you want to 😉

And have a wonderful weekend, filled with great new books!

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with Judy and Keith, authors of Children’s and YA fiction (@JudyandKeith)

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This past week I had the profound pleasure of talking to Judy and Keith, who are not only writing partners, but have also been life-partners for more than forty years (they don’t look old enough for that!). Their story is such a selfless one, but not entirely smooth sailing on the publishing side of things. Read the interview below to find out more about them, their writing and their wonderful books. At the very bottom I will post a link to the article that sparked our conversation, and that can be of great value to anyone who hopes to publish Children’s fiction, or anything that contains graphic content, via Amazon Kindle.

Judy and Keith are also members of the WolfPackAuthors writers’ group. If you haven’t any idea what that is, visit @WolfPackAuthors on Twitter, and be sure to follow them. They’re pretty awesome, just like real wolves.

Keith & Judy

“Judy’s Big-nan told the best bedtime stories with witches, fairies, magic teapots…etc. Judy carried on the tradition with our children, and now we’re reaching a new generation.”

 

  1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

Judy and Keith mainly write children’s stories. Each story tries to emphasize a moral and has to pass the acid test: Would we be happy if our own grandchildren read it?

We were born near Tamworth in the UK, met at high school, have been married for over forty years, and are now semi-retired, living in the South Bay, Los Angeles.
Judy initially followed a medical career as a radiographer and ultrasound technician in the UK and in her spare time gave piano lessons.
Keith followed a career first as an electronic engineer and later as a program manager.
In the mid-eighties, we relocated to Los Angeles where Judy switched profession to cosmetologist. We have two sons and two grandsons.

  1. You are both authors, and a couple?! Tell us about your books.

Keith writes, Judy edits—she says ‘why bark when you have a dog!’
Keith’s alter-ego writes adult material. Our grandson heard us discussing a story and wanted to read it. He was only eight. We promised to write a story just for him and asked what he wanted—answer, a wrestling story. Big T was the result. By the time we’d worked through all our grandchildren & god-grandchildren—we were on a roll.

Some of our earlier eBooks are no longer available individually, but we are republishing them as anthologies. The first two collections are available from Amazon, with Bedtime Stories following early in 2019.

Wicked Witch Anthology

Also available in print here.

Children’s Stories Anthology

Also available in print here.

  1. What motivates you to write?

It has to be our grandchildren.

  1. What are your writers’ Achilles Heels?

Some stories don’t resonate with Keith, and he procrastinates. A few glasses of wine in our rooftop garden usually works to break the deadlock.

  1. How do you negotiate plot ideas or differences in opinion about the content of your books? Is it a negotiation?

It’s a negotiation—usually involving a couple of glasses of wine. Judy is the big picture plot…Keith fills in the details.

  1. Your books are aimed at children and young adults. How did you come to work in this genre? What is your personal connection to the characters in your books?

See answer to Question #2
All characters are fictional…although, we do cherry pick the names we use so our grandkids can relate better to the stories.

  1. Of the books you’ve written, which resonates most closely with you as authors? Are there characters that hold a special relationship with your own childhoods?

The Wicked Witch series—Judy’s Big-nan told the best bedtime stories with witches, fairies, magic teapots…etc. Judy carried on the tradition with our children, and now we’re reaching a new generation.

  1. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

Nothing specific, although we do try and introduce morals and consequences into our stories.

  1. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

Keith fell in love with C. S Lewis’ Narnia series and E. S Nesbit’s stories…especially the blend of reality and fantasy. The idea that you can be living a mundane life…and a second later, a miracle happens…Judy’s the practical one…but, can make up a children’s story at a drop of a hat!

  1. You have had unique challenges with self-publishing children’s books and have overcome them in unique ways. Can you tell us a little bit about that, the illustrations and your process, also about your recently published article in regards to the challenges of publishing books for young readers?

Family and friends told us we’d reach a bigger audience if we had illustrations and the books in print. My son kept plugging away, so when Amazon offered this suite of publishing tools—effectively removing the barrier to play—we had to give them a try. The article goes into more details.
For us, we promised ourselves not to spend family money on what could be viewed as a hobby. The Amazon tools appeared too good to be true. It may be true…and in the future the tools themselves might become a profit-center, but not at the moment. We have a backlog of short stories—more than enough for two additional anthologies. We’ve turned it into a family affair, we all produce illustrations, help with marketing. Judy takes the lead with editing. Keith pulls all the parts together.
At the moment, except for the cover, we’re keeping the illustrations as pen-pencil. If these take off, we’ll consider full color. Our first front cover was home grown using an Amazon template, the second was the result of a competition.

  1. What was the first book you ever wrote?

Children’s stories…was Big T. It still appears on Amazon, but the publisher Devine Destinies has removed it from their website. We will include it in Bedtime Stories 1Q2019. The Mystery of the Broken Vase…still a short-story, but the theme is darker.

Big T

The Mystery of the Broken Vase

  1. What is your greatest passion?

Who knows? We don’t. Music’s a passion…dancing.
We firmly believe communication and doing things together are two of the three legs to keep a relationship fresh and new.

  1. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

Keith’s getting better at drawing illustrations…

  1. What are you currently reading?

Nothing in the YA-children genres.
Keith is a reviewer with TBRpile, so there is plenty of reading material. The last one was an adult detective story by Susan Laine.

  1. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

One day at a time…finish the series of children anthologies. That covers 2019!! Bite the bullet with Harry Putter—a YA/NA romantic comedy…we’re stuck at 2000 words…

  1. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch?

Punisher…Keith
Orange is the new black…Judy

To learn more about Judy and Keith’s lovely children’s books, click here, or visit their Amazon Authors’ Page. Download their article on publishing Children’s fiction/graphic content to Amazon Kindle here.

If you are an author, book blogger/vlogger or book reviewer and would like to be featured as one of my New Kids on the Blog, DM me @StinavD on Twitter, or drop me a line at christina (at) christinavandeventer.com (please replace (at) with @).

Have a lit week!

New Kids on the Blog: An interview with Michael DeMarco (@HanlaBooks)

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“I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature.” – Michael DeMarco

 

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to get to know a little more about the inspiring Michael DeMarco. Wearing many hats, Michael is an author and Lit-vlogger who wants to revolutionize the way young people experience classic literature. By day, he takes on the world’s wrongdoings, but after hours, he’s a superhero championing the finer persuasions in life (Literature, Music, Art!). His Youtube Vlog is a must-visit for any book lover (see links below) and his commentary on how classic literature can be applied to modern life is a unique take on the power and influence of great books.  Michael isn’t just someone whose videos you’ll want to watch and whose book you’ll want to read, he’s someone you’ll want to get to know on a personal level. And now you can.

Read the interview below.

 

  1. Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a civil litigation attorney with my own practice in greater Boston. As of now I will be accepting appointments from the state to represent children and parents when there has been a removal made by the Department of Children and Families.

2. You are an author. Tell us about your book.

My book is a work of historical fiction, in four parts, taking place in England, the Netherlands, Indonesia, and finally Puritan Massachusetts. A Dutch prisoner of war is freed by a precocious young girl in search of her long lost father. While she seems to have freed him out of mutual interest, she makes an obsession out of corrupting him, sabotages the love of his life, while catapulting him up the ranks of the Dutch East India Company.

3. What motivates you to write?

A love of language and a desire to create.

4. What is your writer’s Achilles Heel?

My weakness as a writer is that my taste is very classical, and so my style is more formal and dense than what is found on the shelves these days.

5. Your book, Redemption Lost, is about The Dutch Golden Age, and more specifically the East India Company. What is your personal connection to this historic period/the characters in your book?

I was an Economics major in college and in my senior year I took a seminar level history course on Puritan New England. I am from Massachusetts and the story of European settlement in America fascinates people who live here. Redemption Lost deals with the machinations of the “first modern economy” centered in Amsterdam, the distortions of bear market saboteurs, and that colonial, geographic arbitrage that the Dutch used to acquire high value commodities from Asiatic trade. The climax is in Essex County, Massachusetts, almost too predictably I suppose, ending in a witchcraft trial, the description of which allowed me to draw upon my experience as a trial lawyer.

6. What is your favorite thing to discuss with your readers?

I enjoy hearing their own original opinions that had not occurred to me, sympathies where I had not intended them, or a relation to one of the characters (it is always to Louisa, the main female character).

7. What is the most annoying question you get from your readers?

“Who is your target audience?”

8. What are some of the life-changing books you’ve read, and why?

This would be a long list:

Moliere’s Tartuffe

John Milton’s Paradise Lost

Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther

Montaigne’s Essays

Plutarch’s Lives

Tasso’s Liberation of Jerusalem

I do not know that these books changed my life, but they evolved my thinking, each of them is full of little bits of wisdom for the reader to take away. Moliere in particular mocks everyone who takes things too seriously; arguing in every play, it seems, that to live well is the only true philosophy, and to try too hard to avoid calamity will bring it on you. Tasso is a series of allegorical delights. Plutarch is a tract pertaining to all life on earth. Goethe’s exploration of inner torment is so naked and confessional – and accurate — that it is difficult to wade through.

9. What is the one book you wish you had written, and why?

I hope I will write a comedy some day.

10. You host a Youtube Vlog about Literature. What prompted you to start Vlogging about books?

I’ve come to the determination that academics have ruined literature for young Americans. The purpose of my channel is to try to be entertaining; which is to say, I hope to extract the entertainment value from what is presumed to be dry material and show it to be comedic, meaningful, and even sexual.

11. What was the first book you Vlogged, and why?

I started with a series of podcasts on Paradise Lost because the core themes of that book were incorporated as homage in my own book. To put it simply, I consider Paradise Lost to be the greatest achievement in all of English language literature. It contemplates everything from domestic happiness, to his own theology, to his grapple with the correct relations within a free state. By the time I was done with the vlog, I realized I enjoyed the process. It is very clarifying to sit down and map out what I want to say.

12. What is your greatest passion?

I genuinely enjoy the practice of law and trial work especially. Reading, opera, classical music, the visual arts.

13. Do you have other talents or hobbies?

I get out on the bike for exercise during the summer and I ski during the winter.

14. What are you currently reading?

Maria Callas: The Woman Behind the Legend by Arianna Stassinopoulos.

15. Are there any new projects in your future? What’s next for you?

A Maria Callas video, the rest of Dante’s Inferno, and I must make a vlog on Moliere and Goethe!

16. And the question that everyone gets asked: Recommend one Netflix series I should watch:

Babylon Berlin

 

Follow Michael on Twitter @HanlaBooks or subscribe to his Youtube channel here!

If you are an author, book blogger or book reviewer and would like to be one of the New Kids on the Blog, contact me today!

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Have a bookish weekend!